Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wait...professional development is suppose to be linked to our performance reviews?

Wait... what performance reviews?

I've been asked to participate in an event at Education Sector with three other teacher-bloggers. We will be given the first chance to respond to five panelists who are discussing the link between professional development and teacher evaluation.

My first thought was, "Professional development and teacher evaluation are suppose to be linked? "

(My second was, "Education Sector is brilliant for actually bringing in teachers to be a part of the discussion. How frequently do these sort of events occur with only the policy maker's voices being heard?")

I've been mulling this all over in my head, trying to figure out exactly what the link is, and what it should be. There are, of course, a few issues that come to mind.

1) The quality and motivation behind professional development

2) The quality and meaningfulness of the teacher evaluation process

3) Good administration

Here's the thing with professional development... it can be awesome, well done, meaningful, and immediately apply to your classroom needs. OR, it can be a magnificent waste of every one's time. We've all sat through the demeaning professional development sessions where consultants were brought in from an outside company. They arrive with the immediate belief that because they are talking to a room full of teachers they must speak to them as though they are speaking to kindergarten students. There are lots of games, "turn and talk" moments, hand clapping, (eye rolling), and the information that is delivered is so far from anything you could use in the classroom that the most meaningful act you get out of the entire session is working on your to-do list under the table.

When a school system brings in mandatory professional development for all their teachers, it tends to be because they are jumping on the newest education band-wagon. Many times the people who decided to bring in the professional development are not in the classroom (or even a school) themselves, and are disconnected from the meaningful instruction actually occurring within the school walls. We've all sat through long, tedious professional development sessions introducing us to the latest and greatest in education that were actually 1) what we were already doing in the classroom 2) almost impossible to implement and 3) designed by someone who has never heard of Piaget, or has any understanding of a five year old's fine motor skills.

Meaningful professional development tends to come when a principal or a school identifies an actual need and then strives to find the perfect development opportunity to fill that need. (Kind of like when we make instruction decisions based on our students' assessments). Professional development that reacts to the needs of the school is always the most powerful (particularly if the teachers are the ones to identify the need).

What I believe works the best at my school to actually change teacher instruction is the Literacy Collaborative model (LC). LC is based out of the University of Ohio (I believe). Every teacher in my school takes an LC class every year. Your first year at my school, your LC 1 class amounts to a college class, meeting almost every other week for the entire school year for 3 hours a session. The second year in the program the classes meet a little less, and then you entire "LC 3 and beyond" where the amount you meet lessens, but as long as you are a teacher at the school you are required to participate at least once a month in your LC class. The class structure ensures we are all on the same page with our literacy training, creates a "life-time learner" atmosphere where even experienced teachers are still investigating new literacy ideas and reflecting on their old practices, and opens up meaningful literacy dialogue throughout the school.

Along with the monthly professional development outside of school hours, there is an LC coach who works in one classroom for 2 1/2 hours a day, every day. The coach is another teacher in that classroom for the language arts block, dealing with discipline problems, lack of air conditioning, sleepy children, hyper children, report cards, parent conferences, etc. She is a co-teacher who plans lessons with the classroom teacher, spends time developing meaningful centers, analyzing what centers worked and what didn't, and dealing with all the drama classroom teachers deal with on a daily basis. Basically, she knows what's up.

When she's not in her own classroom she spends the rest of the day coaching other teachers. We sign up for coaching times, identify what we want help with, and she comes into our rooms, observes our students, teaches lessons for us so we can observe her methods, tests out theories with us, listens to us, and gives us feedback.

This is always meaningful because our coaches know exactly what it is like to be in the classroom. They know that when they tried to teach the lesson last week the fire alarm went off and the kids never calmed down. Because they know exactly what is happening they can give truly meaningful feedback. We can't exactly roll our eyes and say "that wont work in my classroom" because they have a classroom too, they worked out the kinks with the same active kids we have. They also are not operating under a one-size fits all professional development model. When they come in to coach you they want to know what YOU are working on. Just because they introduced a new word study lesson in LC class last week does not mean that is what they will focus on in your room. If you're class is having difficulty retelling simple stories that's what they'll work on with you. It's meaningful because it actually, immediately applies to your own classroom.

Our math-team is also actively working on engaging in this type of model as well. It works because our coaches become our teammates.

So, I've always believed this type of professional development works, but it never really occurred to me that it was suppose to somehow be entwined with our evaluations. Evaluations and professional development honestly do seem very far apart. Evaluations are an after-thought, a quick conversation with the principal twice a year (if you are on cycle).

The reviews we get from our admin might not be tied to our professional development, but because we are working so closely with our literacy coaches you'd better believe we are putting what they teach into practice. There is nothing like the literacy coach walking into your room and saying, "What's up with your word wall? No new words this week?" Our coaches take care of a problem before it is big enough to get to the administration. Why wait until evaluation cycle to hear that you're not doing something correctly? They take care of it immediately.

It comes back to the meaningfulness of the evaluations & the quality of your administration. If your administration has put enough in place so that you are receiving constant feedback and growth opportunities throughout the year, the evaluation process becomes just paperwork. If there is a big problem it will be documented here, but otherwise it will be taken care of throughout the year through coaching or through quick check-ins with teachers.

Of course, the administration also needs to hire teachers who are active learners, who are willing to receive constructive feedback throughout the year. They also have to hire coaches who are willing to be humble when relating with teachers, yet firm and direct so that teachers take them seriously.

In my husband's office they experience 360 reviews once a year. They receive feedback not just from who they directly report to, but also from their co-workers on their team, those who report to them, and those they work closely with in another firms. This insures that they cannot just look like they are doing their job in their boss's eye, but also that they work well with their teammates, respect those around them, distribute the workload fairly, and are truly doing what they say they are doing.

I think it's brilliant. It takes everyone a lot of time to write reports on everyone else, but from what I understand they all take it seriously, and when they receive feedback from their teammates they take that even more seriously.

In a way our work with a coach works out much like my husband's review process. We are not just relying on feedback from one person who may not have a full understanding of our day-to-day work in the classroom.

... I'm going to stop there. It is summer break after all, and so it's time for another cup of coffee and a few hours of reading for fun on my balcony. I thought I had little to say on the subject, but turns out I could keep typing for hours. More later...


luckeyfrog said...

So many teachers think coaches are worthless, and it's sad to me that they can be. Our coaches have a wealth of knowledge, and will come in occasionally if you ask them, but don't often circulate just because.

It sounds like your situation is so much more beneficial! THIS is accountability in the best way, by someone who is there for the educating, not just the test results.

How wonderful would it be if coaches see weaknesses, plan professional development utilizing not only outside experts but also (or maybe instead) staff at the school for whom that is a strength?

The best professional development I've attended so far offered some ideas, and then asked for ideas from people in the room. We learned so much from EACH OTHER!

Unknown said...

The link can go both ways - your evaluation shows this - so you need to take these steps in professional development. OR - we are training you to teach this way, so that is what we are looking for when you are evaluated.

The very best PD I have seen is job embedded - where the coach demonstrates with your class and then debriefs with you. Simple, but, oh so effective.

Dina said...

Your schools gives you access to who for how long doing what?!?

I can't wait to have this conversation with you next week. We too have a coach, and I couldn't live without her, but our PD w/her is nowhere near as nuanced or developed. Like, wow.

Jen said...

I kept reading this thinking, no, what you're one step away from describing is pd that is evaluation and evaluation that feeds pd. They're not far apart, they should be one and the same. If you and your coach could write up what you've done over the year, that should BE the evaluation.

The scheduling of this sounds amazing -- having just completed my first year of teaching, I could cry reading that description!